Romancing the Source: Afghanistan

Panjshir Valley
In the Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan, rugged natural beauty provides the backdrop for the equally rugged people seeking emeralds and making life-long, trusting friendships.
This series of articles and videos follows a team of GIA Field Gemmologists on their travels from the mountains of Afghanistan to the jungles of Sri Lanka in search of the sources of coloured gemstones and the people who pursue them. This thrilling journey will take you to remote gemstone-mining areas, where you’ll witness the extreme effort required to wrestle nature’s treasures from the earth.

The romance of a coloured gemstone arises from its beauty, the exotic qualities of its source’s location, the adventure leading to its discovery and the stories of the people who seek it. These factors have united to create the allure of gemstones through the ages, and continue to do so even in modern times.

Panjshir Valley
The Panjshir River winds through the mountain pass into the Panjshir Valley, where some of the world’s most beautiful emeralds can be found. Photo by Andrew Lucas.
Emeralds from Afghanistan can rival any in the world for beauty. The exact source of these incredible stones is the Panjshir Valley. The name means “five lions”, after five highly spiritual brothers who settled in the valley in the eleventh century AD. Recent history has subjected the valley to continual war and security issues, such as the Russian occupation from 1979 to 1989 and the civil war with the Taliban from 1996 to 2001. In a five-year span, the Northern Alliance, under national hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, defeated 10 attempted takeovers of the valley by the Soviets.

The mining of emeralds and the resources gained by selling them helped the courageous people of this valley to hold off the Soviet invasion. Now these green stones are helping to rebuild the area’s economy.

Emerald mining involves tunnelling into mountainsides and using former military munitions to blast into the hard rock to remove emerald. The miners work under difficult conditions, and mining can only be carried out during certain months of the year. While mild winters allow for continual mining, even in the snow, harsh winters like that of 2015 stop mining operations and can even lead to avalanches and deaths.

Miners who have done well over the years are now mine owners and dealers. They are very knowledgeable about the international market and sell their emeralds through markets in Dubai. Other miners digging into the hard rock where the emeralds are found hope to find the stones that will elevate themselves and their families into a better financial position.

Andrew Lucas is Manager of Field Gemmology at GIA in Carlsbad, California; Tao Hsu is Technical Editor of Gems & Gemology.

Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan
Arthur Groom, Eternity Emerald